“In spite of the variety of his work, he knows that his labour, whatever its form, is but the activity of one and the same Robinson, and consequently, that it consists of nothing but different modes of human labour … All the relations between Robinson and the objects that form this wealth of his own creation, are here so simple and clear as to be intelligible without exertion, even to Mr. Sedley Taylor.
Let us now transport ourselves from Robinson’s island bathed in light to the European middle ages shrouded in darkness. Here, instead of the independent man, we find everyone dependent, serfs and lords, vassals and suzerains, laymen and clergy”
What can we learn about contemporary politics of work, service economy and culture industry from an old book from 1867? We can read – precisely in Chapter 25 of Marx’s Capital – a long disquisition on the industrial reserve army (LW628 section three of chapter 25). Much of the chapter is also on wages (and therefor probably moved from the once promised book on wages) and was included to emphasise the trick of accumulated capital – as unpaid labour power of a collective kind. If today the contribution economy, algorithms of advertising and circulation, and struggles over democracy in the media and on the street are questions of precarious life, does it matter that many have misunderstood Marx’s argument, his movement from individual worker to collective worker, and simple reproduction to capitalist reproduction, in Capital? If his argument is credited, then the ‘prekärer’ is the condition of all precarious workers (P793 D669 LW640), and all reproduction within capitalism is precarious. We then have to consider the proximity of the floating, latent and stagnant reserve army that keeps everyone ducking and diving to stay in place, keeps aspirations in check, keeps wages down, and is an unavoidable question of inside and outside that must always be put under pressure. Where Marx calls for workers and unemployed to organise together, we miss a trick if the sociological analysis remains at the level of the individual not collective. In this analysis, Capital is many, but the ‘we’ is more. What does this mean 150 years later for the organisation of social movements such that may or may not be linked to Occupy (Gezi, Umbrella, Indignados, Dataran).
Earlier – here.
Here are my notes, thinking out loud. Sorry if there seems like I am telling you what you already told us in your text – but there are things I need to clarify for myself, hence the ‘you said this’, then ‘this’ roundabouts. I think it is, well, you surely know already I think its great, so…
I think it is a really important thing to discuss this issue of reproduction first. Not third… and we should think of this challenge – to put reproduction at the centre of the analysis – as something that Marx does perhaps too slowly for readers today, but it is there in his Umschlag in the second half of the book. Umschlag is transformation, or tipping point, and there is a moment in the book – well, many really, but clear ones in chapter 16 – collective worker – and chapter 23 – where this is crucial. [and of course, as well as change, Umschlag is envelope, and all those associations of coat, skin, husk need to be held to the side].
We should dwell on what has happened here in terms of the unfolding analysis of capitalism in the book and why it matters for how we describe things – like commodification of all aspects of life, like labour power, like skills, training, discipline… I would risk, hesitantly, saying that I think Marx leads us to a possibly unavoidable misconstrual when he does not explicitly talk about reproduction of the class relation until section seven of Capital, and even there still sets aside the place of child rearing, women etc – he says he will come back to it… and perhaps does – this is not my main point here even as it is possible to make the case that though Marx several times mentions the matter of reproduction of the working class, he did not deal in detail until parts of volume 2 with the division 1 and division 2 of consumption/labour fund stuff, and even then… Nevertheless there are comments in several of the chapters in vol 1, especially at the beginning of chapter 17 where he notes the ‘great variations in the cost of reproducing the workers family’ (P.656 D.542) only to immediately exclude consideration till later…. then in chapter 22 consideration is required – ‘therefore we must take into account’ – of factors that impact upon the value of labour power: ‘the price and extent of the prime necessities of life’, as developed at a certain stage in history, the ‘cost of training the workers’, the ‘part played by women and children’ (P701, D.583)….
‘Under capitalism, we reproduce human beings as labour power, or as potential labour power. We reproduce people as workers. As class subjects – who are disciplined, educated, skilled and moulded – to as the saying goes “to know their place”. Be it to rule, to be the manager or to work like a dog for someone else’ (Barbagallo 2014).
My point is going to be that this is good, to talk of labour power, yet there is a problem as far as it stands for simple reproduction in the abstract individual sense – a mother wiping snot from a nose – and stands for simple production in the abstract (and fictive, necessary for the analysis) simple production of value for a single capital. The story unfolds though, that’s the point. Marx had to explain labour power first. He starts with the single labourer confronting the single capitalist in the market (actually he starts with the single commodity, then moves to market. He starts with simple production so as to explain labour power, in the chapter on the working day he moves from the voice of one worker to the workers banded together to demand the ten hour day. I am stressing a pattern here. So when he gets to talk about how a single capital must already find the worker in place, ready to sell labour capacity (and only having that to sell) there has been a similar shift from simple reproduction to complex reproduction, from one worker to the collective worker and from one capital to many capitals. This happens in chapters 16, 17, 22, 23, but it was already happening in Working Day, in Co-operation. – labour, whether paid or unpaid, is social.
The task is to radically reorganise the work, to revalue it, to bring it to the centre of our lives and our struggles. This is as much to identify all that is wrong with currently existing reproduction as much as it is to reclaim all that is necessary. From Black feminist scholars – such as bell hooks and Patricia hills Collins – we can also think of reproduction as belonging to a radical ‘homeplace’ – a place that is necessary to nurture, to value and to support – as a place in which we can retreat to and recharge our bodies after the cruelties and harm of capitalist work – and crucially where we can make plans, learn from each other to have courage to resist, and to teach our children to not only survive capitalism but to revolt against its discipline, rhythms and institutions of power.” (Barbagallo 2014 FF)
“For us, tradesmen and artisans are not merely the people who do business, buy and sell. In our civilization, tradesmen and artisans are soldiers when needed; they are martyrs who fall while defending the homeland, veterans and heroes,” … “They are the police who maintain security, judges and arbitrators who maintain justice”
I am teaching the death knell section of Capital this week. Local events have brought home very much the reactionary role of those petty traders that align with capital in a reactionary way. Here with Presidential approval, they claim the streets for a miserable cut-price commerce and little else (think shopping malls and security guards too). Alongside their marginal gains, they provide Capital with an obsolete but fascist patrol (as *in the *UK *too), always backed by violence, in uniform or not – a last ditch defence of marginal privileges that must be overcome. Shopping is not just civil war because the capitalists pass on our discounts as wage cuts to other workers, but also because smoothing the streets facilitates the enforced sale of commodified junk made by others so you can make commodified junk (and surplus) for capital – a double trick. The petty trader is a block, and a bloc, on the wrong side of the process. Speaking of the collective worker, paid and unpaid, the proletarianisation of all is socialised labour alongside the centralisation of capital in the hands of a few magnates, Marx adds a footnote to the Manifesto as he notes how this process of centralisation also turns the mass of the people into a class with interests diametrically opposed to capital – the contradictions expressed in crisis, and this low-level petty civil war is a crisis – the contradictions…
So, you know, there a bits of Capital where Marx thought it was worth explaining a wider context for things he had written before, and I think there is something to be said for rethinking the terms used then in the terms used now because, uncanny repetitions, there is something in the way we are still all drawn into the proletarianisation game (even if Bernard Stiegler too often wants to point out Marx was wrong, it is interesting to see how much of what he said can help make sense of new circumstances).
Update – notes to self… re lecture three
Originally posted on trinketization:
by far and away the best response to lecture three ever….
Added December 2014, as its lecture three again, this possibly apocryphal stub from the wiksters…
“The storehouses of the Romanov Court in St. Petersburg were regarded as the largest collections of cognacs and wines in the world with much of it from the Transcaucasus region of Georgia. During the October Revolution of 1917, upon the storming of the Winter Palace, the Bolshevik Revolution actually paused for a week or so as the participants gorged on the substantial stores of cognac and wines. The Russian market was always a huge brandy-consuming region in which home-grown varieties were common but much of it was imported. The patterns of bottles followed that of the western European norm. Throughout the Soviet era, the production of brandy was a source of pride for the communist regime as they continued to produce some excellent…
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